How Health Information Exchange Can Save Practices Money

July 25, 2014

Physicians and medical practices that fail to participate in health information exchange could soon be at a disadvantage.

2014 is supposed to be the year of interoperability and health information exchange (HIE) in U.S. healthcare. The second stage of meaningful use requires eligible professionals to demonstrate data exchange across organizational, regional, and perhaps most significantly, EHR products. However, recent numbers indicate that few eligible professionals have attested to Stage 2.

While Meaningful Use is the main driver of interoperability at the moment, it is not the only reason physicians should be pushing for it in their practices.

Here are a few of the most notable competitive advantages providers can gain from investing heavily in HIE:

HIE can lead to higher patient satisfaction.
Providers thinking of HIE only in terms of profit loss between their investment and their meaningful use incentives are missing a larger picture. The act of HIE itself can carry many benefits, including reducing duplicate tests (an ancillary income source that’s quickly shrinking), reducing adverse events, and even increasing patient satisfaction.

These benefits highlight the advantage gained from being an early adopter of health information exchange, even if it means partnering with local organizations who may be competitors.

If healthcare is to increasingly be viewed as a market, then providers need to consider services that make them appealing to consumers. It’s easy to see why consumers would support HIE. For example, patient satisfaction is often highly correlated with physician interaction. If a physician, or even the nurse who is part of the patient experience, has quick access to that patient’s information, it’s much more likely the patient’s experience will be enjoyable.

HIE leads to cost savings.
When searching for a medium, providers will have the most success joining a regional health information organization (RHIO), as data exchange on such a large scale is often best managed by a third party. Health information organizations (HIOs) also present providers with an opportunity to join a data exchange network, perhaps even on a smaller scale since HIOs often exist within a single city.

Many RHIOs, which are typically operated by state governments, still struggle in terms of financial stability and rely on federal grant money to continue operations. Luckily, this doesn’t prohibit providers from developing sufficient data exchange mechanisms, meaning the benefits of HIE can still be realized.

Benchmark case studies have also shown the power of successful patient information exchange on a state or regional level. The Indiana Health Information Exchange is perhaps the most well-known, likely because it’s one of the most mature. Established in 1999, the RHIO included 80 hospitals, long-term care facilities, and over 18,000 physicians in 2011. This RHIO also features a disease-management program and supplies participants with adverse drug event detection, clinical quality reports, and lab reports for public health. All of which help reduce costs, specifically by limiting the number of CT scans and chest X-rays.

Another example comes in the form of HealthBridge, an HIO founded in 1997. HealthBridge currently exchanges information between 50 hospitals and over 7,500 physicians. In terms of cost savings, HealthBridge has pointed out that the manual delivery of lab results costs $.75 on average, while electronic delivery only costs $.12 per message.

Finally, research from Vanderbilt University estimated that an HIO in Memphis, Tenn., that included 12 hospitals, resulted in annual societal savings of $1.95 million. The reduction in emergency room visits accounted for over 90 percent of the savings.

With cost savings and quality improvement examples beginning to correlate more strongly with HIE, it’s unsurprising that almost 50 percent of U.S. hospitals are participating in the exchange of health information at a regional, state, or local level. For providers, HIE is demonstrating a large enough competitive advantage that those not accessing information from other providers could soon be at a disadvantage.